Hollywood awards season is a test of endurance for me. More of a clubby series of self-congratulatory pageants dressed in designer finery than a credible display of artistic achievement, the Oscars are perhaps the most obvious of high school popularity contests. And yet my stomach was all butterflies as I anxiously checked the list of Best Actor Oscar nominees this morning. There’s something about big-name recognition of longtime favorites that is immensely satisfying, popularity contest or not.
Amidst the ritz and glitz of the Oscars tomorrow night, I’ll be thinking back to my favorite movie-going moments. When I was a real cinophile -and I was, believe it or not (my degree in Film isn’t for naught) – I’d make a point of going out to see each and every film nominated in nearly every category, with writing, design, and editing being favorites. I remember leaping out of my skin with joy with Eiko Ishioka won for her beautiful, sexy costumes for Dracula; I loved those outfits so much I bought the accompanying film book, complete with sketches. When I saw Sleepy Hollow, the first thing I noted afterwards was its incredible art direction; I predicted then it would win in that category, and sure enough, Rick Heinrichs (art director) and Peter Young (set decorator) were awarded well-earned little shiny golden men.
The Hollywood we’ll see tomorrow night on the red carpet -in all its floor draper, shoulder-baring, spray-tanned, primped-up glory -isn’t the reality, and everyone knows that, and no one cares. And really, it doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is celebrating the image we’re being sold. On a personal level, that parade of glitz and glam wasn’t why I fell in love with movies. The dance of light, shadow, colour, and texture with words, sounds, tones, and finally, silence is, and will always be, magical.
Oscars: fun, silly, big business.
However, you choose to look at them (and all the itinerant outfits), you can’t help but choose a favorite moment when the little golden man makes his appearance every March. My personal favorite segment was short, snappy, and very stylish: Tina Fey, in sparkling black one-shoulder dress, and Robert Downey Jr. rocking a bow-tie and Warhol shades, presenting the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (it went to the entirely-deserving Mark Boal for The Hurt Locker, fyi). The two shared a comfortable, natural chemistry; their deadpan delivery of tacky lines, with Fey’s sarcastic cheery-chipper-yay-team-ness, and Downey’s sourpuss antics, easily became my top Oscar moment. Kathryn Bigelow taking top director honors, and her incredible film winning big, were different kinds of joys entirely, but for smart, smarmy, smirking entertainment, Fey & Downey were tops.
What a deliciously refreshing moment of two supremely funny, smart people, their awareness of the ridiculousness of the spectacle they were involved in (and indeed, work daily in) writ large on their expressive faces. What a joy, to witness their playing with the absurdity, mocking and milking the fatuous fabulousness of big gowns, big hair, bright lights and booming music. Downey’s later appearance on Jimmy Kimmel‘s post-Oscars show was every bit as entertaining; he seems supremely aware of his position within the Hollywood game, and is content to play into it, while keeping watch to not be played by it.
Here’s to the artists who make these award shows -and their post-mortems -so entertaining, while reminding us there’s sometimes a very creative brain behind the box office buzz.